December 17, 2007

No-Knock In Minneapolis

This could have ended very badly. Police conducted a raid on a house based on bad information and wound up getting shot by the owner, who could not speak English. Fortunately for everyone, no one got hurt, but once again the wisdom of no-knock raids will get challenged by the disaster that could have occurred (via Memeorandum):

Police blamed bad information for sending a SWAT team into a north Minneapolis house early Sunday morning in a raid that ended with shots exchanged between police -- who were struck by bullets -- and the resident, who said he was just defending his family.

The homeowner, who does not speak English, told his brother that he thought the police were the "bad guys" after they broke through the back door of the house, where he lives with his wife and six children. He fired and hit two police officers, who were not injured thanks to their bullet-proof vests and helmets, police said in a statement.

The Police Department's SWAT team was trying to search the two-story house at 12:46 a.m. in the 1300 block of Logan Avenue N., as part of an investigation by the Violent Offender Task Force. But police said that they learned later that bad information led them to that house.

"It was found out that this particular address was not part of that long-term investigation," police spokesman Sgt. Jesse Garcia III told KSTP-TV on Sunday. He told KMSP-TV that it was a "bad situation."

Police arrested Vang Khang for shooting the officers with two blasts from his shotgun. Afterwards, Minneapolis released him without charging him -- and well they should have. As it turns out, Khang speaks no English; he and his family are Hmong refugees. All he knew was that people had broken into his house, and he attempted to defend his family, including six children.

It could have ended in someone's death, as a no-knock raid did in Atlanta earlier this year. IN that case, an elderly woman attempted to defend herself against what she thought were violent intruders in a dangerous neighborhood. Instead, police -- again entering without announcing themselves following bad tips from an informant -- shot and killed her in the confusion. Khang managed to survive his experience with no-knock entries, but only just.

The Khang raid came at the end of a string of more successful operations against houses that served as weapons depots and safe havens for violent offenders. However, the use of the no-knock raid heightens some risks even while it might lower others, and it makes mistakes like the one at Khang's house deadly affairs. Obviously the Minneapolis police did not do their homework before busting down the door of Vang Khang, and the SWAT raid on a law-abiding resident put everyone's lives at risk for no good reason.

We need to have a conversation in every state and city about the wisdom of no-knock raids. In cases of national security and imminent violence, one might see room for such an approach, but otherwise police should announce themselves before entering private property. It seems to me that the Constitution takes that approach in the Fourth Amendment, and as Khang can attest, it does so for good reason. At least Khang is alive to attest to it.


TrackBack URL for this entry: